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8 ways Internet companies make money

Unicorns are ‘in’. What are their typical sources of revenue?

The emerging landscape of public Internet companies

India has 47 unicorns and 232 soonicorns and at least half a dozen of these Internet companies are set to float or will likely float their maiden IPO. The names include Zomato, Mobikwik, PayTM, Nykaa, Policy Bazaar, Lenskart and Delhivery. Analysts say many more will follow in the coming years.

For the stock market novice, a unicorn is a company with a $1 billion+ valuation and a soonicorn (lovely name!) is a company likely to get there ‘soonest’. The sentiment (of the stock market variety) is that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased consumer adoption of the products and services of these primarily tech, Internet-fueled enterprises. This has lead to an attractive window of opportunity for getting listed.

The Indian Internet sector has been around since 1998 (August 15, 1998 is when India got it’s first Internet Service Provider, VSNL) but only a handful of companies have ever gone public, either on foreign bourses or on Indian ones. Rediff.com listed on the NASDAQ in 1999, followed by Make My Trip and Yatra Online in 2010. On the NSE/BSE, Info Edge (naukri.com) listed in 2006 and Infibeam, Bharat Matrimony, Indiamart and Ease My Trip followed over a decade later (2016 onwards).

The upcoming, anticipated flood of Internet companies hitting the stock markets will therefore be a rare, momentous occasion and a turning point for the sector as a whole.

Revenue streams and their importance to Internet companies

Having myself been part of the Internet sector since 1999 – an involvement which includes being part of the management team which first took an Indian Internet company public (Rediff.com on NASDAQ) – I can say that Internet companies work under vulnerable circumstances. They must meet investors outsized growth expectations while competing with equally smart, charged-up rivals and while confronting potentially disrupting regulatory, trade, globe and consumer forces.

Therefore the better diversified the business, the better its management will sleep at night. Diversifying sources of revenue – what I have here called revenue sources – is an important step to be considered to make Internet companies safe and secure.

It’s thus a good time to refresh ourselves on the different revenue streams available for Internet companies and the key factors required to succeed for each. I know of 8 types of revenue or revenue streams, of which the first four can be considered major and the last four minor.

Major revenue streams

For most Internet companies, these revenue sources account for the bulk of the revenue. In no particular order, these are as follows.
1. The first revenue stream is e-commerce. B2C businesses (say Lenskart) can sell their products online on their own website. Further, they can supplement such revenue via marketplaces such as Amazon.com.

The key success factor here is having differentiated products and the ability to build trust.

One can also build marketplaces (e.g Nykaa and Policy Bazaar) and earn commission revenue. Succeeding in these require building value-added offerings, relentless focus and preferably an early to market start.

Ticketing, which includes travel, movies and hospitality, as well as shared mobility (Uber) services is a big segment within e-commerce. The other big segment is delivery, whether this be food delivery, grocery or other. These are transaction-based or fee-based service businesses.

The key success factor for the fee-based service businesses is achieving critical scale through an appropriate level of investment, though partnerships and tech innovation, while also achieving operational efficiency.

2. The second way for a business to make money off the Internet is to generate leads.

While an individual lead does not result in a sure-shot sale or predictable revenue, across a large number of leads it is possible to guesstimate conversions and revenues.

The nature of leads generated varies according to the business. These could, for example, be consumer durable companies generating requests for a product demo or a home visit; these could be clinics, salons and other service businesses providing appointments for patients; schools and universities looking for admissions enquiries or housekeeping and gifting companies seeking meetings with Admin heads of large corporates.

In my experience, the key success factors here are brand recognition (is the brand known and better known than competition) and savvy online marketing. Also, online marketing for lead generation works best for products and services of a certain minimum ticket value.

An example of an Internet company whose revenue works off lead generation has been Just Dial. Of course, a large number of offline or non-Internet businesses depend on lead generation. These were the examples cited above (viz. consumer durables, clinics, universities and corporate gifting).

3. A third revenue stream is subscriptions. Ongoing and daily needs lend themselves to subscription businesses. These needs include milk, newspapers, magazines, paid e-mail, paid music apps and premium LinkedIn accounts. These have recurring customer revenues thanks to the subscription.

Products and services delivered online – such as paid email (this would exclude milk) are often though not always on a freemium model – where the basic service is free and the service that has value-added features needs to be paid for.

As a marketer, I believe the field is also ripe for subscriptions of other ‘real-world’ products. AI-driven home delivery of coconut water, fruits and medicines anyone?

4. The fourth revenue stream is online advertising. This is the domain of media companies. For online advertising, one can have one’s own sales team or seek a partnership with resellers and ad networks. The best known ad network is Google Display Network, for which one can sign up online via Google Ad Sense.

Internet ads are ‘cheap.’ The key success factor here is getting large amounts of traffic to one’s website.

If one has large amounts of traffic and a brand, one can generate sponsorship revenue, which usually is high ticket revenue and not linked to the ad performance.

Minor revenue streams

The first three of these sources are not very common. The last (eight) source is a potentially important and I would say an emerging revenue stream, at least in the Indian market.

5. The fifth revenue stream is selling virtual goods. Items like paid avatars are used in gaming (cf. Ten cent, China) and have been earlier tried in social networking sites as well.

The key success factor here is the ability to create a very large user community online.

6. Syndication is a sixth revenue stream. Media brands with unique, quality content can consider syndication or licensing of their content. Thus, New York Times articles are syndicated to publications world-wide.

7. A seventh revenue stream is affiliate revenue. One can work as an affiliate site, sending traffic to and generating sales for a larger, more established website/brand.

The key success factor for an affiliate is becoming an authority or expert within a specific ‘domain’, attracting niche traffic interested in this topic and then sending this traffic to a website selling goods in the same ‘domain’. E.g. a sports news site can be an affiliate for a sports goods site and a books review blog can be an affiliate for an online bookstore.

8. In today’s day and age, all businesses with a strong online revenue component contemplate a brick and mortar component to their business. An online presence drives offline revenue just as offline presence can drive online revenue.

In this omni-channel world, revenues from retail stores can be considered as the eighth revenue stream for Internet companies.

That makes it 8 revenue streams that I know of. Are there others? If you do know, do drop a line.

The evolving revenue-mix

All Internet companies do end up diversifying their revenue mix. Google was primarily advertising-led but moved to fee-based services. Amazon was mainly e-commerce, then moved to fee-based services with AWS and now counts online advertising as it’s fastest growing business. LinkedIn, now a unit of Microsoft, makes money from job hiring fees, premium memberships and online ads. At Internet portal Rediff.com (where I worked), we made money from advertising, e-commerce and subscription services such as paid email and matchmaking.

India’s Internet companies have most notably pursued creating brick and mortar chains. Eyewear major Lenskart has over 80 retail stores. Here, companies seem to prefer the franchise model, presumably because it is faster to market and asset light (growth X ROI!). Flipkart has an online ad business that brings in some decent revenue.

I suppose most Internet businesses will attempt to diversify their revenue streams. They will seek to encash (monetize!) their brand, user base, talent bank et al (see key success factors above for each of the 8 revenue streams).

What are the detailed dynamics driving these trends? The answer is beyond the scope of this post. Many must have studied this well already, it will be interesting to know who.

Well, this is what I know. Something to think of ahead of the anticipated gravy train of digital IPOs in India, which starts tomorrow (14th July, 2021) with Zomato.

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My advice below is a little better 🙂 Image: Cartoonstock.com

Ahem… some advice. My last post was on marketing for all organizations and this time, it’s the marketers who I am giving advice to. And as in that post, the ‘now‘ in the headline (‘Four activities that marketers should take up now’) refers to the current pandemic times we now live it.

Here is the advice.

  1. Develop your organization’s under served brands and the corporate brand
    I wrote about this in the previous post. That article listed 10 actions that organizations need to take during today’s pandemic times. You should be talking within your own organization about doing these.                                                      

2.  Help develop your organization’s online capabilities
Most marketers have not had a chance to develop their digital or online skills.                                                                                                                           

Very few will have worked in the Internet sector, by which I mean companies like Google or Yahoo or Amazon. Here, and I speak from personal experience, one really gets to understand the online medium. Nor do most organizations have an e-commerce business and even if they do have one, it is a small part of the whole. Therefore, few executives, marketers included, have had hands-on online experience.

In case your organization has an e-commerce business, I suggest you ask to be assigned to it, even temporarily or part-time. The value you will get: a richer understanding of the market. You will get to listen to consumers, sometimes one on one via their social reactions and sometimes via the data. You will also be able to test responses to alternate communication and to pricing changes. The consumers comments will be most revealing. 

Online consumers are most well-informed, and given the choices online, most demanding. By learning how to appeal to such customers, you will benefit overall. Online may be where you should soft launch and test year 2022’s product launches.

If your organization is a B2C business but is not in e-commerce, see if you can take the lead in starting one. Get an e-commerce website created. If this look difficult, see if the company’s products are listed on Amazon and other marketplaces and offer to help manage this channel. And if your products are not listed on these marketplaces, take the lead in getting this done. Selling on Amazon is ultra-competitive: you will learn about your products and the market.

If yours is a B2B business that cannot use e-commerce, see how you can take improve the ‘digitization’ of the business. Here are some ideas. If the home market (say India) is dull (due to the pandemic), see if you can give a push to your international marketing. Ask your website agency or team for help in getting more international traffic. Or help improve the online presence of your channel partners. E.g., if you are selling steel or appliances or cement, can you create a dedicated page on your company website for each of these partners?

I have more examples to share here but will save these for later.

3. Build your own professional skills                                                              

Yes, this is stating the obvious, it is a motherhood statement, but I find few professionals, marketers included, investing time in doing this.  Yet now, when business pressures are possibly less and one is working from home, there can be no excuse.

There are two situations. The first type of skill needs are common to many junior marketers that I encounter today. This is a weakness in what I call core business skills – oral and written communication, analytical capabilities and awareness of the world around them. These skills are vital for marketers.                                                                 

There is no one fix. Extensive reading helps improve some English skills and general knowledge. Coursera has a specialization on data analysis and presentation skills and the other learning portals like EdX and LinkedIn Learning may have similar useful courses too. There are many apps and videos that can help improve vocabulary and speaking skills. The British Council in India offers well-regarded English courses.

Can you use your professional talents for some voluntary work? Given that there are just a few marketers out there (e.g. just about 1% of the people on LinkedIn are marketers, as per my quick research), your contribution is sure to be valued. If you are already doing this, great. For most, it will be the first step, so start small.

The second situation: most marketers will do well to keep abreast of new developments in marketing and in digital marketing. I subscribe to the daily newsletter of the American Marketing Association. It mails a curated selection of about 7 or 8 marketing items – articles, blog posts and news items – everyday. You may also like to check out Interskale’s Internet marketing resources page.

4. Give back

The best example of starting small is perhaps my own. I recently used my understanding of colours (which marketers have) to get my apartment complex repainted right, in attractive shades that go well with the walls, the lighting and the ambience. And I informally advise a company that sells eco-friendly products on their branding.

Just two small examples. Hope you get the idea.

This blog post originally appeared on June 3rd, 2021 as an article in LinkedIn. Minor changes have been made vis-a-vis the LinkedIn article.

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This blog post originally appeared on May 24th, 2021 as an article in LinkedIn. It’s meant to act as two bits of advice for senior management of organizations. Small changes have been made vis-a-vis the LinkedIn article.

The marketing that all organizations need

            MOST ORGANIZATIONS ARE NOT DOING MUCH MARKETING

The ‘now‘ refers to the current period in our global history viz. the Covid-19 pandemic. At this time, this has been around for 15 months and it will be many months before it wanes.

The reference to ‘most organizations‘ refers to organizations who are not regular or heavy spenders on marketing and who don’t have a full marketing department. For instance, a look at the Economic Times 500, which consists of the 500 largest companies in India by revenue, shows that about 80 to 90% of them belong to industries who are not likely to be regular spenders on marketing. Similarly, of the 150 odd industries seen on LinkedIn, only about 20% are known to spend on marketing.

The marketing advice that I wish to share is for such non-marketing companies. Even non-marketing companies, which don’t have products and services that need active marketing, have a corporate brand to take care of, and my advice is about this (details below).

My recommendations here apply to marketing companies as well. However, these companies may already be following these measures.

For my recommendations to get seriously considered, one will need the ear of senior management. And I believe that today there is a good chance of this happening.

In normal (read “non-pandemic” times), most organizations are caught up in a whirlwind of activity. The leadership teams are most busy. In the current pandemic, however, business activity is at a somewhat low level – and management bandwidth is possibly available – for the marketing activities that I have in mind.

Here is the advice: Pay attention to your brands. Firstly, all organizations need to pay attention to their corporate brand. And organizations which have branded products or services need to re-look the strategies for these brands.

What does it mean to pay attention to the brands?

  1. What is our value proposition ? Is our offering to our customers relevant and distinctive? This is needed as much or more for corporate and B2B brands as for product and B2C ones.
  2. Are our customers happy ?
  3. Is our understanding of the above value proposition and customer satisfaction based on any factual data ? When have we last ‘listened’ to our customers and prospective customers?
  4. Today, in the majority of cases, customers first become aware of brands through online. And the world is global and interconnected, ever more so now after the pandemic. International customers in particular are most likely to learn about your brands and organization online. Therefore, how good is the (online) information about us ? Is it accurate and updated, complete, interesting and perhaps even compelling?
  5. Where all is this information ? Apart from the company website, is it on individual brand websites, company LinkedIn page, LinkedIn pages of individual employees (via their current job descriptions), other social media such as You Tube, on Amazon, on Google My Business listings (for retail businesses) and on marketplaces such as Alibaba (for B2B businesses)?Again, is the content about us on each of these channels accurate, updated, complete et al?
  6. Is there media coverage or customer reviews about us online? How well do we fare here?
  7. How good is our website ? Have we ever got a website audit done by a third party ?
  8. Are the social media channels well-managed ?
  9. When have we last got an opinion taken on our brand logo ? Have we ever got a brand identity exercise done?I once met a top visual designer. When I handed him my business card, he said it wasn’t designed well. He said he could tweak the design and that he believed it would improve my company’s image so much so that I would be able to command a 15% increase in our rates. We did get a more cleaner and sharper design, I must say.
  10. Can we set a simple way or a process to manage our corporate brand – inclusive of the pieces mentioned above – so that it stays relevant and attractive for time to come ?

While ten marketing activities may seem a lot to do, the good news is that not all may be equally important and doing even one will be rewarding.

In my experience, this corporate marketing exercise does tend to get neglected. The primary reason is paucity of management time. However, as given above, for most organizations, there can be no better time than now (the year of the pandemic).

Marketing image credit: https://www.marketingstrategy.com/marketing-extends-well-beyond-the-marketing-department/

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A decade of Interskale: From the CEO’s desk

After a corporate career in FMCG marketing, the consumer Internet industry and in-house digital marketing, I set up Interskale a decade ago. On September 1, 2010.

The idea behind starting Interskale was to better utilize the techniques and methods I had learnt in my career – to do high quality digital marketing work. I believed that digital will be very effective in helping organizations realize their business potential, provided that the strategy and the execution are both sound and that here my industry experience would help make this happen.

In the last 10 years, my team and I have spoken and met with thousands of (my guess would be two to three thousand) individuals whose organizations are looking for digital marketing. It has been Interskale’s privilege to work with over a 100 of them. Many have very clearly benefited and have continued to work with us over the years.

A little over 50 associates, almost all in the the first decade of their careers, chose to make their career with us. They received solid on the job training and interesting work to boot.

This decade-long experience in this nascent discipline has enriched me and left me wiser.

I have found that there exists a gap in understanding – of what digital marketing really is and what it is capable of. The field does benefit from the work of bright minds at Internet companies like Google, Facebook & Amazon, thereby developing at a fast pace. Unfortunately, this pace of change often leaves behind both the organization that seeks to deploy digital as well as the digital marketing practitioner. There is a need for industry and academicians to pay attention to the profession or discipline of digital marketing itself. In the absence of this, myths and half-knowledge prevail.

I would like to thank all Interskale associates, past and present, clients current and inactive as well as the many partner organizations and fellow professionals that my team and I have worked with.

I wish you all well in your personal and professional lives, both now and post-Covid-19. Let us see what the future holds post this most unfortunate pandemic.

Rohit

P.S.: Today, we are relaunching our website. The chief update is with respect to content: this site better reflects what we do and what we practice and believe in, the old content was simply outdated. Some finishing touches remain, but we thought it best to launch on our anniversary.

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The new Interskale website

Today, on our 10th anniversary, we are relaunching our website (www.interskale.in). The chief update is with respect to content: this site better reflects what we do and what we practise and believe in, the old content was simply outdated.

Here is a brief overview of the site:
The What we offer section describes the high level nuts and bolts of what we offer.

Digital marketing services presents the services we offer – under eight key heads.

About us a short overview of ourselves.

Careers, blog, company news and a section on recommended reading (Internet marketing resources) complete the list.

And here are some of the more useful pages. If you want to know what marketing problems we help solve, check out our digital marketing solutions. If you want to know about our secret sauce, check out our performance marketing processes page. If you want to know we typically engage with clients, see client engagement. These are our digital marketing services. Take a look at the business principles we live by. And finally, go here if you want to know why choose us.

We wanted to launch this site on our anniversary. In the bargain, we could not complete the section on Our Work. This will be added soon.

Do let us know – at info@interskale.in – what you think of the website.

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Digital marketing for hard times

In recent months, the news about the Indian economy has been not so great. Several sectors are witnessing a slowdown.

When the economy is sluggish or when there is hyper-competiton and your company performance is affected, what do you do?

In such cases, the business strategy usually is to try get a better return from every rupee or dollar invested.

In digital marketing, there are several ways to improve the ROI of every marketing dollar. Here are six.

1. Website enquiries

Srengthen i.e. improve the company or product or brand website. In particular, if you are a B2B business, you can attract high quality organic traffic and generate quality prospects through your website.

Strengthening the website means improving the content, visual design (look), UI (user interface) and tech performance of the website. This could mean making incremental improvements to the existing site or making a new one. The absolute cost of doing this is low, making this one of the best digital investments that you can make.

2. E-commerce business

Most organizations have – for several reasons – only made half-hearted attempts at e-commerce or neglected this totally. If you are a B2C company with an established brand or a differentiated product, e-commerce can be an important retail channel. In our experience, B2C businesses can generate 10 to 15% of their total sales from e-commerce.

This can be through marketplaces such as Amazon but is best done through one’s own e-commerce website.

3. Hyper-targeted display ads

Google’s display ads platform, Google Display Network (GDN) and it’s video ads platform, You Tube Ads, have in the last one year or so, significantly improved their capabilities. Through machine learning, these platforms are able to identify audiences who are currently planning to buy or who are actively researching a given product or service. Campaigns using this targeting are called in-market campaigns.

In-market campaigns as well as another similar type called custom intent campaigns result in a very efficient use of every ad dollar.

Large digital advertisers can benefit by trying out programmatic advertising, where there is automated real time bidding for each ad impression served.

4. Mining existing customers: Email marketing, SMS and CRM

Targeting existing and lapsed customers through email and SMS campaigns is a great way to get them to buy again. The prerequisite for this is maintaining a customer database and (preferably) the use of a CRM software to run the email and SMS campaign.

In our experience, most organizations are currently not doing this.

5. Low cost brand advertising

Continued brand advertising even in a downturn is a practice perfected by experienced marketers such as P & G. When good times return, it gives the advertised brand a real advantage over brands that pulled out their ads.

The question is: when times are bad, how can any brand afford to advertise ? The answer: digital ads. An ad platform like Facebook Ads has

– high reach

– campaign tools that enable control the frequency of the ads

– a choice of various creative units, such as video, carousel and Instagram (part of Facebook) ads

– low absolute cost and low cost per ad impression

The typical costs being got today on Facebook Ads are 1 Paisa (INR 0.01) per ad impression. Therefore, brands with an audience size of say 10 million can create a good impact with a total ad budget of less than INR 1 million.

During a crunch situation, brands which are regular advertisers can move a larger part of their ad budgets from press or TV to digital. And smaller brands, which do not currently invest in advertising, can keep up the business momentum through a first-time brand campaign on Facebook.

6. Exports enquiries

A great feature of the Internet is it’s global reach. If you have never taken a look at the Google Analytics data of your website, please do so. You will be surprised at the number of countries your website gets traffic from.

Again, if you have had a website for some time, you may have received at least one ‘alliancing’ enquiry or one business enquiry from a location that that you did not quite expect.

Most organization in India have neglected or only partly explored international opportunities. And when the domestic market is down, going international is important.

With digital marketing, it’s easy to go international. Campaigns can be run targeting almost any country. Every B2B organization can aim to get international customers and every organization, whether B2B or B2C, can aim to get international business partners.

These then are six useful ways that digital marketing can help your organization during a downturn.

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The real value of digital marketing

This post could just as well have been titled “The real value added by digital marketing”.

The questions this posts seek to answer are:

Q1. What is it about digital marketing that gives it an edge over other marketing media and methods?

Q2 What is the maximum benefit that can any organization can get from digital marketing ?

Answer to Q1.
In a previous blog post, we listed ten reasons why organizations should prefer digital marketing over other marketing methods.  Three reasons in particular give this medium a killer edge. Here they are.

1. Digital marketing has very strong TARGETING capabilities. One can reach niche audiences best suited for one’s product or service in many unique and efficient ways and that too reach such audiences all over the world.

2. The second advantage that is uniquely digital is ENGAGEMENT. The variety and depth of engagement possible – starting from social engagement (likes, shares and follows) and going all the way to re-targeting, getting leads and online sales – is not seen in any other media.

3. The third unique advantage is MEASURABILITY. Digital is the most measurable medium in history. Each view and interaction of an ad can be tracked and counted. Ad platforms can even track whether an individual has fully or only partly seen a digital ad.

Thus, digital provides Measurable Engagement across Targeted audiences, MET for short.

Note that we are not saying digital is the only marketing that should be done, rather we are simply pointing out it’s USP.

Answer to Q2.
When we consider that
(i) the Targeted audiences in digital marketing are usually also large in size  (ii) the Engagement includes sales and business leads (enquiries) and
(iii) for a given marketing objective, the absolute costs in digital are lower than the costs in offline media, the MET advantage gets further multiplied.

At Interskale, we believe that the careful and methodical application of digital marketing enables organizations to grow their business month on month, year on year. Therefore the answer to the question “What’s the maximum benefit that can be got from digital marketing?” is simply ‘Business Growth’.

Unfortunately, in digital marketing, very often the discussions on outcomes are only about the number of impressions or clicks. But today digital marketing has the power to directly improve awareness, lead pipelines, sales and brand perception.

The key role of any organization’s marketing head or Chief Marketing Officer is to deliver growth in unit volumes and revenues and deliver an increase in market share. And to make this happen, digital marketing is increasingly the most effective method she or he has available.

Why are we so confident that digital marketing can lead to robust business growth?

At Interskale, we have ourselves used digital marketing to get solid business growth for our clients.

And importantly, digital marketing has some very important champions driving it’s use. Some of the world’s marquee companies, such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Yahoo, derive a lion’s share of their revenues from digital advertising.

E.g.Google Ads contributes to about 85% of the total Alphabet (Google parent company) revenues. It is thus all-important for Google to make Google Ads more and more useful to advertisers. New features and capabilities are indeed frequently added. And – we don’t have an exact number but – we estimate that hundreds of highly talented engineers are assigned exclusively to Google Ads to make this happen.

Agencies like Interskale then harness these ad platforms for the benefit of their client organizations.

While innovation is happening in digital advertising – and more is to come – most organizations have yet to fully exploit its existing potential. In digital marketing, the best ROI is yet to come.

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Making sense of SEO

This post is not for the SEO specialist or professional. It is for the website owner, who has not yet implemented SEO or has implemented this unsuccessfully and is therefore a little confused.

Two different expectations from SEO

SEO or search engine optimization is the one digital marketing service  almost everyone has heard of. The need to rank one’s own website on page 1 of Google’s search results and that too rank among the topmost results on page 1 – is a deep-rooted need. SEO is the service that is believed to meet this need.

Website owners have two different expectations from SEO and the high ranking it is believed to get. One set hopes that a high ranking in search results will bring in more business while for others it’s just a prestige issue of sorts: they simply do not like to see their competitor sites rank above their own website.

Two challenges in ranking high on Google

In our experience, very few website owners really understand what makes a high ranking possible or not possible. Website owners typically believe that there is a set of techniques out there, that when implemented by experts, almost always ensures a good search engine ranking.

This however is not wholly true.

Firstly, Google has itself never said that adopting these techniques (actually practices) will definitely lead to a better ranking in the search results.  Google itself doesn’t want any site to be able to “game” the search results, by working according to a simple formula given by it. Rather, Google wants sites to rank based on merit, which means sites based on their perceived usefulness  by their users.

According to Google, implementing SEO techniques can at best aid in a better ranking but can by no means guarantee it. Here is what their official SEO starter guide says:

“You should build a website to benefit your users, and any optimization should be geared toward making the user experience better. One of those users is a search engine, which helps other users discover your content. Search Engine Optimization is about helping search engines understand and present content”.

Website owners forget that the website’s merit matters more than the SEO techniques. In the first place, a website needs to be built that is useful to and worthy of being appreciated by it’s users.

The second challenge in getting a high ranking in Google is that the practice of SEO appeals particularly to the techies. As the majority of the SEO techniques require tinkering to be done with a website’s code, doing this is fairly easy to learn as well for someone who’s into code. The net result is that the majority of SEO practitioners are techies rather than marketing or content people. A strategic, content-led approach gets overlooked in favour of a tech approach, though both are needed for success in ranking in search.

Thus, only two of the ten major SEO practices (as given in Google’s official SEO starter guide ) are about content:

  • Help Google find your content
  • Tell Google which pages shouldn’t be crawled
  • Help Google (and users) understand your content
  • Manage your appearance in Google Search results
  • Organize your site hierarchy
  • Optimize your content
  • Optimize your images
  • Make your site mobile-friendly
  • Promote your website
  • Analyze your search performance and user behavior

And at least seven of the above ten practices require a person comfortable with code or with web technology. (The last of the ten practices requires simple analytical skills rather than content or tech skills).

6 key factors that you can influence to improve your site’s rank in Google

Here’s our own take on what it takes to get a good rank in Google’s search results:

  1. The website should be technically sound.
  2. The website should be user-friendly.
  3. The website content should be well-written.What is meant by well-written website content is a subject in itself but for the purposes of this blog post we can briefly summarize this as being content that (a) the user finds useful and (b) which is grammatically correct.
  4. The website should have lots of content – in terms of pages, words, images or products and services – rather than less content.E.g. It’s difficult to rank high for a website of 5 pages, built around one  product and having just a few hundred words and a couple of product images.

The majority of websites that we encounter, don’t meet the above four requirements. Therefore, when we are asked to do an SEO project, we work with the client to fix these at the earliest.

Here is one more important ranking factor.

5. The website content should be around one single, focused theme.
E.g. it’s not useful enough to write what widgets you make and sell, this is too broad, there will be other companies making similar widgets. Rather, you need to convey what specific benefits your widgets provides its customers and how your widgets are different and/or better than competing widgets.

Let’s say, there is a soap brand which has the most environmentally friendly packaging in the market e.g. degradable non-plastic packaging.  It’s better to focus the content of the site on how this brand is going to make a difference to the world.  And of course, as the demand for environmentally friendly packaging products grows, the number of searches for such soaps and the traffic to this soap website too will increase.

6. Implement the on-page SEO practices

This is about actually implementing the tech SEO practices listed above in the two challenges section – and which will require you to hire an SEO expert. (On-page is the set of SEO techniques done on the website itself).

Which are the most important of the 6 factors ?

All good sites are supposed to have good tech and good user interfaces (factors 1 and 2 above). And over the years, as we have seen an improvement in these tech and UI ratings, we believe that most sites will eventually get there.  All sites will eventually also get around to hiring a SEO expert, who implements the various SEO techniques (factor 6). Therefore, for a given product or service category, in the long run the game will be often about excelling in the content factors viz. factors 3 , 4 and 5 above.

If one considers the Indian market (one suspect this applies globally too), organizations are under-investing in the content resources for their websites vis-a-vis investments in tech, UI and SEO.

Website content improvements are likely to remain largely unaddressed. Content is the final frontier. More on this in a subsequent post.

P.S.: To know about our own SEO services, visit our website.

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That digital is in most major markets now one of the top 2 or 3 (along with press and TV) marketing mediums, if not the no. 1 medium, is a fact. Ad spend figures published by respected ad industry sources, all indicate so.

What is less understood are the very many reasons why digital is taking over advertising. Here is our take. We list ten possible factors.

1. REACH
More people can be reached today via digital than by any other platform.
As per the latest Internet Trends report, over half the world’s population is online.

2. ENGAGEMENT
Digital is the one medium where consumer engagement in the form of enquiries, feedback and social forwards is possible. The most important type of engagement are enquiries or leads; these are of great importance for many, though not all businesses.

3. IMPACT
Many more creative formats and creative unit sizes are available for use than are available in other media.

4. FLEXIBILITY
It is possible to start, stop, pause, restructure and monitor digital campaigns much more easily than campaigns of other media.

5. VERSATILITY
Campaigns can be set up and run optimally for any one of several marketing objectives: awareness, reach, consideration, leads, calls, sales & store visits.

6. TARGETING
The medium has phenomenal targeting capabilities. Geographic, demographic, psychographic, behavioural and content-based targeting are all possible. The width of options exceeds that available for print and other media, including we believe for TV.

7. SALES
Digital is almost the only medium where sales can directly happen (E-commerce websites). TV shopping channels are one of the very few (though less popular) alternate options.

8. MEASURABILITY
Just about everything done by consumers online is measurable. And this data is availability near instantly and is fairly granular, allowing detailed analysis.

9. AI-LED
Digital has begun actively leveraging machine learning / artificial intelligence. For example, Google, which is a leader in this field, has over the last year or so made good use of it’s expertise in enhancing the capabilities of it’s own Google Ads.

10. COST
Digital is a medium known to incur lower absolute costs vis-a-vis press and TV.

These then are our top 10 reasons why digital is every marketer’s definitive, must-use medium. If we were to add an eleventh reason, it would be that the medium has now become the most talked about and the most influential, among people who matter.

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We work with several e-commerce start-ups and thus have some learning on what we think e-commerce entrepreneurs need to get right from day one. Here are three business basics which will pay back handsomely.

1. Have an innovative product
Your product or service must not be a me-too. Unless you have a brand which is established i.e. already doing well offline – that you want to take online – the product idea must be reasonably distinctive. The competition online can get murderous. If not the product itself, you need to differentiate in some other part of the offering.

Niche and novel products do well online. Due to various reasons, the Internet is good at matching such products with the right customers. Conversely, me-too products take time to carve out a market.

There are some other aspects of product strategy that are important, we will save these tips up for another blog post. Having an innovative product is the most desirable aspect of the product strategy.

2. Build the best website you can
Don’t compromise on the website. You can save a bit on marketing or other expenses but don’t go for, say, a website that an inexperienced web developer friend offers to put up at cost. Go for the best site that money can bring.

Your most important investment: the e-commerce website.

By a good e-commerce website, we don’t mean a super duper customized platform which needs a strong tech team and costs a bomb. We mean a website that allows you to test ‘proof of concept’. In most cases, this means a website which will be adequate for the first 12 to 18 months (see related point below). What’s a good e-commerce website? Too big a subject for this post. A user-friendly UI & navigation, good mobile speed and responsiveness and a feature-rich back-end are three important aspects of a good e-commerce site.

Unfortunately, 6 of 10 e-commerce websites that we encounter score a C grade or worse (grade scale A to E).

3. Have a business horizon of minimum 12 months
Have a business horizon of the above minimum duration. This is the time required to establish the business model, prove the concept and get it ready to scale to the next level.

We are often asked why 3 to 4 months or so should not be enough, in cases where the client is even willing to spend handsomely on marketing at the outset?

Due to various reasons, this does not usually happen in 3-4 months.

Firstly, most organizations starting up an e-commerce business are new to it, and they have a learning curve. Another reason has to do with customer acquisition, in particular as to what type of traffic can convert to customers. A lot of testing and experimentation is needed here, which takes time. No one formula works for each business, each customer acquisition case is somewhat unique.

Thus, new e-commerce businesses need to get many aspects of the business right, before growth happens. And this does not usually happen in a few weeks.

The above are three bits of advice that we hope you will find to be useful.

P.S.: To know more about our own e-commerce services, visit our website.

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